For four years, President Trump and Senate Republicans stacked the court with unqualified nominees with egregiously conservative records who were mostly white men. With his first slate of judicial nominees, President Biden has already modeled, with dramatic contrast, a commitment to adding demographic and professional diversity to our courts. We look forward to senators following suit in their future nominee recommendations, but we are also counting on all Democratic senators to do what it takes to convert all of these nominees from names on a list into judges in robes.
We are confident that as Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) will waste no time scheduling hearings to advance these nominees. We are confident that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will prioritize floor votes with the same haste as his predecessor. We are confident these judges will be confirmed, but we still need all of the senators to fight to ensure that happens.
Senate Democrats have a huge role to play in highlighting the records and qualifications of Biden’s distinguished nominees — to show voters what it can look like when our courts actually resemble the public they serve. The Biden administration is demonstrating that judges can and must come from all backgrounds and all corners of the legal profession. They must reflect a diversity of backgrounds with experience defending workers, victims of discrimination, and the disenfranchised. Most importantly, they can and should be lawyers who have dedicated their careers to protecting the rights of our most marginalized populations and advancing equal justice for all.
We know conservatives are already planning attacks on these nominees. For example, one group has already spent a million dollars attacking the nominees as “politicians in robes.” It’s an ironic attack given the extreme records of Trump’s judges, but it’s also a sad attempt to distort a belief in civil rights and the rule of law as “political.” Do we not want judges who believe the law should protect people from harassment, abuse, and discrimination? It would be a huge improvement from the many Trump judges with direct experience working against LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, access to health care, and access to abortion.
Consider Margaret Strickland, nominated to the district court of New Mexico. She has fought tirelessly to represent clients who have been victimized by the justice system. In 2017, she notably obtained a $1.6 million-dollar verdict on behalf of a married couple who were subjected to excessive force when two police officers unlawfully arrested them. Having a judge who is familiar with the excesses of law enforcement and prisons will help ensure plaintiffs have their cases fairly heard. Strickland is also fluent in Spanish, making her all the more accessible to those who might enter her courtroom.
Seventh Circuit nominee Candace Jackson-Akiwumi represented more than 400 clients as a public defender. Conservatives will inevitably try to tag her and other former public defenders with the crimes their clients were accused of. But do we not want judges who recognize the rights of the accused and who have experience with clients who live in poverty and may not have access to a team of lawyers to defend them? As Jackson-Akiwumi once described it, she stood by clients “when they are being judged for the worst day or days in their life.” What a refreshing change that attitude is compared to prosecutors who might be inclined to add to the nation’s unprecedented incarceration rates or corporate attorneys used to protecting only the wealthy and powerful.
When senators meet with these nominees, ask questions about their records at hearings, and dedicate floor time to supporting their confirmations, they can dispel the partisan rancor and highlight a hopeful vision for our justice system. Engaging with the judicial confirmation process with the same gusto as they do legislation could reshape how the American public understands and cares about our courts.
Moreover, judicial nominations are not subject to the filibuster, which means moving these nominations forward is an opportunity for real — and swift — productivity in the Senate. It’s a win-win for senators to show the work getting done in Congress to improve the lives of their constituents.
We can repair the damage Trump and Senate Republicans have done with their attempt to take over the courts. It’s time to celebrate adding true diversity to our judicial system and ensure that everyone who interacts with it has their fair day in court.
Nan Aron is the founder of Alliance for Justice and has served as its president for 41 years.